Protecting Fido: Why Companies Need to Prioritize Pet Food Safety

Millennials love their pets. A lot. A recent market research study from Zulily found millennials – defined by Pew as anyone born between 1981 and 1996 – are not only more likely to own pets (over a third of all pets in the US are owned by millennials), but they’re also more devoted to them: 71% of millennials would take a pay cut to spend more time with their pet, and millennials often consider their pets as “starter children.” And just like today’s parents want high-quality food options for their precious tots, millennial pet owners want the best food possible for their fur babies – and increasingly, they’re willing to spend a premium on it. Between 2014 and 2016, millenials increased their spending on pet food by 32%.

Pet food brands must ensure a safe product in order to take advantage of this trend, but pet food recalls remain a common occurrence. In fact, the FDA has announced at least one per month every month this year. Here are some tips on how your brand can take advantage of this robust market while gaining consumer trust.

Be Cautious of the Raw Stuff

The meat-centric paleo diet has become so popular that people now want their dogs to follow suit and eat a diet closer to what they ate before we domesticated them, full of things like raw meat and vegetables. These raw and paleo pet food advocates promise that eschewing grain-based foods will give your pup more energy, a more lustrous coat and healthier teeth (some even say it can help your pet’s stool smell less offensive). The raw food market has grown consistently every year, and it’s common these days to see frozen raw dog food in the freezer next to your ice cream on retail shelves.

Unfortunately, raw pet food can be dangerous. According to the CDC, “There are more harmful germs in raw pet food than any other type of pet food, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration studies.” The organization’s official recommendation: steer clear of the stuff because of the possibility you or your pet could get salmonella or listeria. Many raw pet food brands have been recalled in recent months, despite it’s trendiness.

Know Where Your Products Are Coming From

Around 2007, dog owners across America started noticing a terrifying trend. Their dogs were suddenly dying after a mysterious kidney infection. The culprit? Jerky treats. And even scarier? The FDA couldn’t figure exactly what the ingredient was causing the deaths. By 2015, the FDA had received over 5,000 complaints about the issue and reported over 1,000 canine deaths.

One thing the FDA was able to figure out: most of the treats that caused the sicknesses were from China. A few years prior, a similar scandal erupted when American dogs and cats began dying after eating Chinese-made pet food that included melamine, an industrial chemical used in plastic products, but was mislabelled as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.

In response to these events, leading pet food retailers like Petsmart and Petco stopped selling Chinese-made pet food treats in 2015. Today, China still struggles with a thriving black market for pet food, and many US consumers still have a strong negative association with pet food from the country, with many seeking out foods that haven’t been produced there.

Deliver on Transparency

It’s no longer good enough to offer plain pet food. Millennial pet owners want their pets to be the healthiest they can be, and they’re eagerly embracing products that promise to give their pets a boost, whether that comes from the inclusion of local ingredients, anti-aging ingredients or supplements like dried kelp. But if you decide to offer products incorporating such premium ingredients, be prepared to explain your ingredients and their sourcing so you can show customers that you offer a safe product.

Millennial customers may want want new intriguing ingredients in their pet’s food, but they also desire simplicity and are suspicious of unhealthy filler ingredients–a Mintel study demonstrated these high standards, with almost 80% of respondents declaring their pet’s food quality is as important as their own. These kinds of customers are the ones reading pet food review blogs and researching to find out if the pet food they’re thinking of buying has ever been recalled. If you want to reach these customers, make sure you’re clear about exactly what ingredients you’re incorporating, where your ingredients come from and the specific benefits those ingredients can provide. As a 2017 pet food industry report pointed out, the pet food market no longer belongs to a small group of big companies. Millennials are embracing smaller pet food brands if they offer the quality and transparency they crave.